SALT LAKE CITY — Electronic dance music, friends to socialize with and something to drink — the Sky SLC nightclub crowd was ready to party the evening of Oct. 18.
But when classical music showed up around 8:30 p.m., it at times felt like a tragically misunderstood guest among the nightlife audience.
MOTUS, short for Musicians of the Utah Symphony, played alongside renowned “wild child” violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja as part of the group’s “MOTUS After Dark” series, which brings late-night classical music performances to Salt Lake City bars and restaurants. The group is known for its objective of presenting classical music to underexposed audiences in less formal venues.
In the case of Kopatchinskaja’s violin performance of Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane,” the show was a success. But unfortunately, the moderately sized crowd didn’t take very well to the musicians’ performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal “Pierrot lunaire.”
The solo classical pieces at the beginning of the program by flutist Mercedes Smith, violinist Madeline Adkins and pianist Jason Hardink seemed to be much more the nightclub’s speed. In these shorter numbers, each musician’s agile fingers and smooth technique demonstrated a great deal of talent and skill that was obvious even to those unfamiliar with classical music.
However, the mood was a little uncomfortable as the three soloists — joined onstage by Kopatchinskaja in her vocal debut, conductor Thierry Fischer, cellist Matthew Johnson and clarinetist Lee Livengood — introduced the crowd to the untraditional sound of Schoenberg’s piece.
Kopatchinskaja entered the stage barefoot, true to her style, wearing a baggy white painter’s outfit with a poofy round collar and black beret. Paired against the stage's projected backdrop of expressionist paintings, this immediately gave the audience a feel for the unique artistic element of the piece.
She pronounced each word of “Pierrot lunaire” dramatically, demonstrating both her passion and talent for the arts, while the quintet’s skillful playing provided a colorful background to the sound of her voice.
Although the English translated lyrics of the piece were displayed on three TV screens above the stage, the words were small and difficult to read. Perhaps this, coupled with the unfamiliarity of the musical style, was why about half of the audience had turned to their friends or cellphones for alternative entertainment by Part II of the piece.
The venue seemed equally unprepared for the musical presentation. Throughout the first and second parts of “Pierrot lunaire,” Kopatchinskaja’s microphone was constantly popping, which didn’t help the crowd’s experience with the Schoenberg piece.
A microphone change before Part III solved the loud and distracting popping problem, but by that point, the sound of the song had already been nearly drowned out by the noise of the socializing crowd.
Though perhaps underappreciated, the group onstage performed Schoenberg’s song cycle with every ounce of concentration and expertise they had — an attitude reflected by a group of the audience that remained thoughtful and attentive throughout the entire performance.
Despite the mishaps and misunderstanding, the group’s skilled interpretation of the music generated a fair amount of applause at the end and was interesting enough to keep the nightclub audience around for Kopatchinskaja’s concluding piece.
Teamed with Hardink's expert piano accompaniment, Kopatchinskaja's bow and fingers flew rapidly through Ravel’s “Tzigane,” and a few charismatic pauses quickly demanded back the crowd’s attention for this final masterpiece.
From the well-executed, crazy-fast pizzicato sections all the way through to the thrilling end, Kopatchinskaja’s expressive “wild child” side captivated the audience with her contagious internal passion for music.
No sooner had she lifted her bow off the strings with a closing flourish than the room erupted in loud applause and a standing ovation, reflecting a respect for classical music that proved MOTUS’ goal had in fact been generally well-received among the unlikely nightlife audience.
Kopatchinskaja will perform Schoenberg’s “Violin Concerto” with the entire Utah Symphony Oct. 20-21, where the symphony will also perform the iconic Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
If you go
Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
When: Oct. 20-21, 7:30 p.m.
How Much: Tickets range from $15 to $93